After six straight winning seasons, Tampa Bay hit the skids last year at 77-85 and for those daily working the MLB odds, they were one of the worst wager in baseball at -27.1 units.
This ended up altering the front end of the franchise and Andrew Friedman went from the penny-pinching ways Tampa Bay has used the last several years skillfully under his command, to having bags of money with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Stunningly, soon to follow was manager Joe Maddon and just like the Sports Illustrated cover from a couple seasons ago –The Rays Way- it is no longer a valid way to look at this team for MLB baseball handicappers and those looking to make MLB picks.
Here is a breakdown of the 2015 Tampa Bay Rays.
At the top of the rotation will be Alex Cobb and Chris Archer and while losing David Price was a significant blow, Cobb actually posted lower ERAs than Price over the past two seasons. Everyone in the American League is aware of Archer’s talent and electric stuff, he now needs to harness it to become a dominant starter. Jake Odorizzi seems like a classic No. 3 starter and if Drew Smyly can overcome his shoulder discomfort and left-hander Matt Moore stays on schedule for his return from Tommy John surgery (early July), this could be a formidable staff for those placing MLB picks to consider.
One skill Maddon had was developing an effective bullpen and first-year manager Kevin Cash will have to do this on his own. Cash will have a number of good options to choose from in the later innings, it just becomes a matter of assigning the proper roles. The closer for now is lefty Jake McGee, who has a mid to upper 90’s fastball that has late movement. Also in the mix are Grant Balfour, Brad Boxberger and Kevin Jepsen.
The largest reason Tampa Bay was so bad on MLB picks (or good if you played against them) was because their offense was the worst in the AL at 3.8 runs per game. Though a number of changes have been made, it does not change the fact the Rays have very little capacity to score runs in bunches via the long ball, with nobody outside of Evan Longoria really a true threat.
Players like Desmond Jennings, John Jaso and James Loney all have the potential to get on base regularly but really don’t pack much punch. On the presumption Longoria is the clean-hitter, outfielders Steven Souza and Kevin Kiermaier combined for only 20 home runs in over 700 at bats last season.
Asdrubal Cabrera is set to be the everyday shortstop and Nick Franklin and Logan Forsythe are expected to begin the season at second base in a platoon situation. These players are thought to be at the bottom of lineup card and their contributions will be average at best based on their history.
Best Bet Forecast
Sportsbooks have Tampa Bay ticketed for last place in the AL East according to MLB odds to win the division (+525 at 5Dimes) and their win total is also the lowest at 79 wins. However, because of the mediocrity of the division, Boston is the favorite and their projected win total is just 85 victories. In looking at the division, if the Rays develop more offense, they can certainly move up because both New York and Baltimore appear vulnerable.
But this is a franchise in transition, with a new front office and more importantly a new skipper who is unproven, with a lot to sort out. At this time it looks like there are more questions than answers and the offense could still be an issue, even if somewhat improved.
Count on the Rays for last in the AL East and Under 79 wins.